I know a few people, myself included, have observed one Common Tern feeding another bird. As I was sure that the bird receiving the food appeared to have adult plumage, I thought I would look into the possibility of courtship feeding and have come up with the following information.
The female looks around for the male bird
During the breeding season when pairs are first getting established or sometime later after incubation has begun, they can perform "courtship feeding" during which males present food to the soliciting female.
In an effort to lure females to their territories in the nesting area, a male Common Tern carries a fish around the breeding colony and displays it to prospective mates. Once a pair bond is formed, the male tern feeds the female, after which they usually mate.
As the male approaches with a fish, the female emits a begging call
During the following five to ten days, both sexes feed themselves, but the male also frequently feeds the increasingly dependent female.
The male passes over the fish - in this case it looks like a roach,
but I also witnessed what I am sure was a very small pike being handed over
For a few days prior to egg laying, the female is fed almost exclusively by the male, but this then declines once the second and third eggs are laid.
It is thought that courtship feeding not only performs part of the pair-bonding function, but also provides the female with nutritional benefit, which can effect the number of eggs she lays and the total clutch weight.
Words and pictures by Tony Bedford